When my mother and sister joined Cafh in Brazil many years ago, I thought I had it all figured out. They would teach me what they were learning, and our long conversations about the meaning of life would give me all the answers I needed. Well… I was wrong. The Divine Mother had in store for me an experience that would change my life and reveal who I really am.
When I was eighteen years old, my main goal in life was to pursue a career in piano performance. I had been studying music for about 10 years and used to practice anywhere from 4 to 8 hours a day. I was so eager and determined to overcome all the technical difficulties of the music I played, that I did not see the real purpose of my music. I had already won prizes in competitions and played in numerous concerts. Personal pride and satisfaction were all I could see. I was completely identified with what I did, with my profession; I did not know who I really was. I was a pianist. That was it.
One day, when I was practicing a difficult piece, my right hand began to hurt. “Good,” I thought, “That means I am really working those muscles well. No pain, no gain, right?” Wrong… I ignored the warning of my body and continued practicing through the pain. After weeks of playing like that, I suddenly found I could not play anymore because the pain was just too intense. Everyone started telling me that my playing technique was probably too tense, but I did not pay much attention. Even my piano teacher did not believe there was a problem with the way I played.
For over a year, I went to all kinds of doctors and specialists and tried all imaginable treatments. With no results at all, I felt my anxiety and frustration grow each day. Finally I realized I had not yet consulted the greatest doctor of all: the Divine Mother. The only thing I had not done yet was pray. I needed to pray and ask for guidance. I was so afraid. What if I could never play the piano again? What would I do?
My mother had told me that members of Cafh usually referred to God as “Divine Mother,” and even though I had not yet joined Cafh, I began to relate in that same way. I asked: “Divine Mother, who am I really, and why is this happening to me?”
Faced with these questions, I had to search within myself for that other person, the one who was not the pianist. I was so identified with my career that I could scarcely imagine not being able to play the piano. But now that possibility was right in front of me. I had to ask myself the fearful question: “What if my hand is so badly injured that I will never be able to play again?”
Robert Schumann, the avid 19th century pianist and composer, was obsessed with mastering his piano technique and overcoming the physical limitations of his hands. He designed a device to strengthen his weak fingers through stretching and weight-lifting—a kind of finger gym! Schumann used the device so much that he injured his hands to the point of no return, putting an end to his aspiration to be a virtuoso pianist. It is not known for sure if this was the cause of the mental disorder that he suffered from around that time, but what a sad ending to his story: he spent his last years in a hospice, in unbearable mental confusion and depression.
Probably he never found an explanation for such a fate, but someone else had, a few decades earlier. Ludwig van Beethoven was still very young, at the height of his career as a pianist and composer, when his hearing began to fade. As his deafness grew and it became clear there was no cure for it, his deep sadness and despair almost led him to take his own life. He wrote to his brothers about this experience, saying:
|“The only thing that held me back [from taking my own life after deafness struck me] was my art. It’s impossible for me to leave this world before I have produced all the works that I feel the urge to compose.…Patience—that is the virtue I must now choose as my guide, and I now possess it.…Almighty God, you look down into my innermost soul, you see into my heart and you know that it is filled with love for humanity and a desire to do good.”1
This touching passage helped me to understand my own purpose in music.
Though given to frequent outbursts of temper and living as an eccentric, in complete isolation in order to keep people from knowing about his condition, Beethoven had an endless passion to proclaim a divine message to the world through his music. He said that as long as God would speak to him, he would keep composing. In fact, Beethoven said he could hear inside his mind the music which had been created above: he was a channel for the divine notes. Even in the midst of much anger and despair, Beethoven understood his purpose. Even though he was completely deaf, he continued to compose the most beautiful music, until the very end of his life.
If Beethoven was able to go on like that, after suffering such a tremendous life challenge, certainly I could do the same. The pain in my hand could not even compare to the loss of hearing of the world’s greatest composer. I felt so small…how could I even feel sorry for myself? My hand was nothing compared to this!
I am certainly no Schumann or Beethoven, but I can identify myself with them. I have had a glimpse of how it feels when you begin to lose what is important to you. I thought that my piano playing was the most important thing in my life, until the problem with my hand started. But it made me stop and want to pray. Pray hard, really hard, open my heart and let all my emotions and thoughts flow freely.
Very soon after I started praying and communicating with the Divine Mother, I joined Cafh, making that commitment that I had seen in my mother and sister and that had changed their lives. I began to learn how to turn my life back into the Divine Mother’s hands, and what it meant to trust her divine will.
Patience was my major obstacle. I wanted a fast result, but there was nothing fast about getting to unknown places inside myself to discover who I really was. As I prayed, I heard this voice inside me saying: “You are not a pianist or musician.” How could that be? What else could I be?
Gradually I came to understand that I had been given my musical ability for a purpose; I could not develop it just for my own satisfaction and it was certainly not my ultimate goal in life. I began to realize that I was a channel of the Divine Mother, and that somehow I should use that ability for others, not for myself. I learned that this process of knowing myself was going to be a lifetime project of discovering, but if I was open to it, there would be endless possibilities.
I also had to take care of the physical healing of my hand. I needed to allow myself to stop practicing the piano for as long as the healing would take and to stop thinking about concerts and competitions. I had to allow other things to fill my heart and mind. What a precious opportunity this was! As I gradually emerged from the mindset that had imprisoned me for so long, many doors began to open.
One day, through a colleague, I met a physical therapist, a very special person, who helped me heal outside and inside. She helped me understand the limitations of my body and see the connection between my physical and spiritual well-being—a connection that was going to be crucial in the healing process of my body. Gradually my hand began to heal.
Around the same time, I met a very famous pianist who opened my eyes to my way of playing. He said that I was playing with lots of tension and that if I wanted to ever be able to play again, I would have to start all over, from the very basic principles, and re-learn everything. What a lesson in humility this was for me! Imagine….starting all over! However, I trusted him.
After a year of therapy, I slowly began to play again, following the pianist’s advice. I found a new teacher who could help me with that, and I learned so much from this process of going back and starting again. First there was humility, then patience and perseverance. This was such a good time to grow spiritually, and to make of my routine a spiritual routine. I realized there was no spiritual life separate from life.
This was also a very good time to learn more about music. In the past, I had been so focused on practicing that I never really read about composers or listened to music very much. The extra time now allowed me to expand my knowledge. I realized that I actually did not know much about music!
The left hand is usually weak in right-handed people, so after talking to the pianist and starting to learn how to play again with my new teacher, I focused on my left hand while the right hand healed. As my left hand was growing stronger and stronger, my teacher told me I could learn an incredible piece, a concerto for piano and orchestra that had been written for the left hand alone. I did not know such a thing existed! An actual piece in which the soloist—the pianist—plays with only one hand…that sounded really interesting.
Maurice Ravel had been one of several composers commissioned to write a concerto for an Austrian pianist who had lost his right arm during the First World War. What a great piece of music he wrote! I immediately fell in love with it. That was the first time, after all the therapy, that I was once again filled with the wonderful sounds of the piano. Being able to perform again had a very special meaning for me, because something inside me had changed forever.
A couple of years later, I had the opportunity to come to the United States to continue my musical studies at the University of Wyoming. A wonderful teacher there helped me with my piano technique to prevent further injuries, and I continued practicing Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand. Since it is a very difficult piece and also very unusual, I began to receive many invitations to perform it. Because of one of these performances, I received an offer to study at the University of Houston. In Houston, I began teaching children, got a job playing the piano and organ in a church, met my wonderful husband and, on top of everything, reconnected with a Cafh group, where beautiful ties of spiritual friendship have developed. What an unexpected turn my life took, and so fulfilling!
In the meantime, the story of my challenges with my hand has not ended. It seems they will accompany me throughout my life, but in different ways and with different purposes. About two years ago, I started dealing with arthritis in my left hand. I couldn’t avoid feeling sad, anxious, and worried.
However, I remembered that the Divine Mother had shown me the first time that I had a purpose with my music that goes beyond my limitations and beyond myself. My life was in her hands. I was a channel of her love, and through music I could touch people’s hearts and make a difference in children’s lives. This time, too, I knew she was trying to show me something through my hands: to remind me who I am, to take me deep inside myself to reconnect to her once again and to rediscover my place in the world. The Divine Mother was shaking me so that I would not fall into my comfort zone and forget my spiritual vocation.
This new episode of pain in my hand made me stop and pray, and give all of myself to the Divine Mother again. It made me revise my goals, my purpose in life, my spiritual commitment, and my direction, and it renewed my energy and love for my path. Now I understand that every time something happens to my hands, it’s time to stop and reconnect to the Divine Mother in a deeper way, to rediscover myself. It’s time to search deep in my heart and bring to the surface the Divine Mother’s love that defines me and shapes me. Now I know that the Divine Mother has literally taken me by the hand!
1. "The Heiligenstadt Testament", Heiligenstadt, October 6, 1802.